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January 2, 2018 > Acura MDX Hybrid - Powerful, more efficient flagship SUV

Acura MDX Hybrid - Powerful, more efficient flagship SUV

By Steve Schaefer

Hybrid vehicles are designed to improve upon gasoline-powered cars rather than replace them. The Acura MDX, a midsize, three-row crossover SUV, is no paragon of fuel efficiency on its own, but when you add an electric component to the drivetrain, it jumps up to earning the mileage of a compact hatchback, despite its bountiful power and hauling capacityÑand mass.

Knowing that the action in the personal transportation business is in the crossover segment, Acura positions this hybrid as a flagship. While the HybridÕs engine drops from a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 to a 257-horsepower 3.0-liter one, adding in not one but three electric motors and a 1.3 kW lithium-ion battery pushes total output to a formidable 321 horsepower and 289 lb.-ft. of torque, making it the brandÕs mightiest SUV ever.

AcuraÕs engineers tucked all this extra technology underneath the car, so passenger and cargo space is unaffected, and the extra couple of hundred pounds adds to stability with a low center of gravity.

The Sport Hybrid gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual mode, like the one in the RLX sport hybrid sedan and the nine-speed version in the NSX. You get virtually instant gear changes, as the other clutch sets up the next gear before you select it. Without a torque converter, a dual-clutch transmission is more efficient. You can use steering wheel mounted paddles to pick your own gears to add to the sportiness.

The three motors are integrated tightly into the existing powertrain. In front, a 47-horsepower motor is part of the transmission. At the rear, twin 36-horsepower motors sit where the differential for all-wheel-drive lives.

AcuraÕs SH-AWD all-wheel-drive technology is a proven feature. The twin rear motors in this application use torque vectoring to affect handling in positive ways. For example, during turns, the outer wheel can be given more torque. All three motors regenerate electricity while braking to fill the battery for more EV driving.

The Hybrid MDX gets EPA ratings of 26 City, 27 Highway, and 27 Combined. The regular MDX achieves 18/26/21 respectively. Smog and Greenhouse gas numbers are both 6Õs, which is normal for 3.0-liter V6s. The 329 grams of CO2 emitted by this car is about three-quarters of what many standard vehicles put out, so thereÕs some positive environmental impact.

Despite its size and height, electronic tuning and controls allow you to personalize the driving experience, so you can tackle interesting roads. While the standard MDX offers three preconfigured driving modesÑComfort, Normal, and SportÑthe MDX Hybrid gives you a Sport+ mode as well. Each setting uses the carÕs electronic controls to enable more and more extreme modification to steering effort, throttle response, shock damping, shift points, and amount of torque vectoring to suit the driving conditions and the driverÕs taste.

Acuras have worn some aggressive faces in the last several years, but have toned that down recently to look less beaky. The new MDX design features the ÒDiamond PentagonÓ grille, made up of tiny elements radiating away from the oversize Acura logo at the center. This is becoming the new face of the brand, scaled to fit each model. Knowing that they compete against models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz with long-familiar visages, Acura has struggled to create a meaningful identity that sticks. This new look is easy to take, but time will tell.

Interiors are plush in an upscale way here, with the distinctive boldly carved dash and doors making every moment inside an Acura a stimulating experience. Materials rate above sister division Honda, as expected.

The MDX Sport Hybrid comes in two forms: Technology and Advance. The Advance incorporates the Technology package. Highlights of the Technology package include a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System with Real-Time Traffic, the Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System, a GPS-linked Tri-Zone Auto Climate System, Blind Spot Information System and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor, rain sensing wipers, and more. The Advance brings in a surround-view camera system, leather sport seats, heated second-row captainÕs chairs, wood trim, rear door sunshades, and more amenities.

Prices start at $53,915 for the Technology Package version. My White Diamond Pearl tester, an Advance model with no additional options, listed at $58,975. The non-hybrid MDX starts at $45,025, if you want the look and utility but not the hybrid performance.

As it has done for all its existence, Acura fights against the German luxury brands, as well as Lexus, Cadillac, Volvo, and the others. Honda can hope its customers will move upward into Acuras, part of the assignment for the founding Integra and Legend models. The MDX is an Acura perennial, and with crossovers hotter than ever, is a suitable flagship. The Sport Hybrid makes it just a bit more fuel efficient.

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